Both the Daily News and the Paulick Report live-blogged yesterday’s Congressional hearing, the latter with more detail and panache, for which I was particularly grateful as I was following the hearing during a marathon seven and a half hour faculty meeting. I’ve yet to watch the hearings, but both Dana at Green but Game and Dan from South Baltimore on the Paulick blog provided links—scroll down and go to “recent programs.” And while Paulick’s coverage was more comprehensive than that in the News, I appreciate that the latter provided its own regular updates. One of the things that I like about the paper is that it has not, like so many others, abandoned racing coverage.
The Blood-Horse’s reporting indicates that most witnesses were in favor of federal involvement in racing. Arthur Hancock said that he “‘supports congressional action given the fact racing has failed to mandate changes. It never happened, and it never will unless you mandate it through the Interstate Horseracing Act.’”
While I don’t disagree that racing needs a governing body, and while I don’t disagree that racing has not acted in its own collective best interests, it’s hard for me to see how getting the government involved is going make things that much better. It’s also rather a bad precedent—does the government oversee/set mandates for any other sports?
I’d also move away from the idea of a “czar” or commission to a council of some sort, at which all of the stakeholders in the sport—owners, breeders, jockeys, trainers, executives—have a say. Alex Waldrop, NTRA president, observed that “‘Noticeably absent were all the groups being criticized…We should have had (representatives from about 20 other groups) here today. We got one side of a very complicated but reasonable debate in our industry’” (The Blood-Horse).
Similarly, Railbird wrote yesterday that she was
irked about the oversight after listening to Jess Jackson declare that owners
were “the lifeblood” of the industry (not to knock the importance of owners —
this sport couldn’t go on without them any more than it could go on without
bettors) and then hearing every group but the fans named as stakeholders in the
industry in response to one of the representative’s questions. As the passage of the NY OTB bill this week showed, players pay when they get overlooked.
From a PR rather than a practical standpoint, it makes sense to me that gambling was not a part of yesterday’s conversation, which arose from the outcry following Eight Belles’s breakdown in the Derby—any prudent representative isn’t going to create a link between horse safety and betting, and yesterday’s hearing was an opportunity for committee members to demonstrate publically how very, very much they care about the welfare of horses, not to point out that bettors regularly get screwed. That wouldn’t play nearly as well back home.
Moving forward, though, any conversation about next steps in the sport needs to include all the voices that weren’t there yesterday, and I would encourage the industry to get its act together before the government steps to, ahem, clean things up.
(An aside: writing this with ESPN on in front of me, the crawl tells me that Big Brown’s next race will be the Haskell. That, of course, has been widely reported, but that ESPN counts it worthy enough to put up every couple of minutes with last night’s baseball scores seems good news to me. Wait—will the Haskell be on ESPN or ABC? According to NTRA’s schedule, no.)
I am off this afternoon for my first twilight racing expedition of the summer. Summer hours mean that I’m out at 1:00 on Friday, leaving plenty of time to pick up lunch, fill the cooler, and make it to post time (barring summer traffic, of course). See you at beautiful Belmont Park….